Feedforward Can Help Provide Good Feedback
A recent study concluded that traditional performance appraisal systems do not improve performance. It suggests that appraisal systems as practiced by organizations are incongruent with values-based, vision-driven, and collaborative work environments. This is probably one of the prominent reasons that companies like Adobe, Juniper, and more recently Microsoft have abandoned traditional performance appraisal systems.
Adobe moved from yearly performance rankings to frequent "check-ins" where managers provide employees targeted coaching and advice. Generally speaking, managers are expected to own most of the performance evaluation system.
With so much focus on the manager driving this discussion, it is often forgotten that the feedback-receiving employee also has a critical role to play in ensuring the success of any adopted system. In addition to being good followers, employees can continue to master being good feedback-seekers. How can they do that?
In his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith talks about a simple concept called feedforward. It asks you to do four simple things:
- Pick one behavior that you want to change.
- Set up a one-on-one dialogue with your manager or co-worker.
- Request two suggestions that might help you achieve a positive change.
- Listen attentively to suggestions. The only permitted response is thank you.
Traditional feedback systems delve too much into past data, and if it’s a negative behavior, the feedback-seeker has to relive that painful behavior again. Basic human nature often does not allow people to objectively hear criticism. Additionally, a lot of time in traditional feedback systems goes into reaching an agreement about the behaviors as the person delivering the feedback is considered more supreme than the person receiving it. As Goldsmith points out, "Helping people be 'right' is more productive than proving them 'wrong'."
The feedforward method does not allow the feedback-receiver to become defensive, which is a drawback of traditional feedback systems. Instead, it focuses on ideas for the future and does not permit delving unnecessarily into the past. Given that the only accepted response to feedback is a simple thank you, feedforward discourages any defensive reactions to suggestions.
However, for this system to work, it requires a great deal of listening skills and discipline to not respond defensively to the feedback. Additionally, one of the most important things needed is the initiative to reach out to the right people when seeking suggestions for improving. Any responsible manager would agree that it makes a job a lot more effective if the employee plays the role of feedback-seeker than just feedback-listener.
Changing performance appraisal systems won’t yield the intended results until all parties involved—including managers and employees—demonstrate an ownership and commitment to making it a success. Seeking active improvement forms the foundation of any successful career. After all, you are the CEO of your career.